All images courtesy of Getty Images/Wiki Commons
By John Siden
“I never go far without a little big star,” Paul Westerberg declares in The Replacement’s ode to the genius of the leader of the band Big Star, Alex Chilton.
The Replacements’ second album for the major label Sire was Pleased to Meet Me coming in hot after their first major label release, Tim. The cover featured an image mocking their transition to a major label band, with the artwork showing a handshake between a hand with a dress shirt and watch and a hand with a ripped shirt. In keeping with the Big Star connection, when it came time to record “Alex Chilton,” Big Star producer Jim Dickinson manned the control board, and the subject of the song, Alex Chilton, played guitar on another track, “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
Before the Please to Meet Meet era, The Replacements consisted of Paul Westerberg (vocals/guitars), Bob Stinson (lead guitar), Tommy Stinson (bass guitar), and Chris Mars (drums). After Tim, Bob Stinson was either fired or left of his own accord, depending on which story you believe. So, for Pleased to Meet Me, they operated as a trio, with Bob’ Slim’ Dunlap officially joining the band after the recording of the record.
Stinson had been a founding member but did not like the band drifting away from their original punk-oriented style. But with Westerberg evolving as a songwriter, the Mats began to produce slicker and more varied sounds. In addition, Stinson’s drinking and drug use also outpaced the rest of the band, even though The Replacements were known for their hard-partying ways. But Stinson’s was so bad that it began to cause problems, and thus the change had to be made. Sadly, even Bob’s younger brother Tommy agreed with the decision to scrap him.
Please to Meet Me was the official start of the Mats leaving the sounds of punk rock behind and becoming more mainstream. This was hinted at on Tim but became fully realized on Pleased to Meet Me, with the track “Can’t Hardly Wait” being a holdover from the Tim sessions. Reportedly, the now-popular track was written just after the completion of Let it Be and was attempted for Tim but didn’t work.
Thankfully, the Mats managed to record an excellent version for Pleased to Meet Me, and it became one of their most popular singles. Years later, the track was used as the namesake for a ’90s teen movie and implemented during the ending credits. The album’s next single was “Alex Chilton,” a love letter to the band Big Star and their main vocalist Alex Chilton. Other singles were “Skyway” and “The Ledge.” A video was recorded for “The Ledge” but was rejected by MTV due to themes alluding to suicide.
Pleased to Meet Me kicks off with the song “I.O.U.,” a song harkening back to vibes of the Mats’ earlier work. The track is raw rock ‘n’ roll at its finest, working off a great riff, and makes for an exciting segue into “Alex Chilton,” an instantly catchy cut, even before the chorus. This has always been one of my favorite Replacements songs; “I’m in love with that song,” Westerberg sings, and I feel that. It led me to dig into Big Star eventually, so I get what he is saying with this song.
Next, we have “I Don’t Know,” which has the same feel as “I.O.U.,” but with an ultra-catchy chorus. Pleased to Meet Me then shifts into a more mellow mode with “Nightclub Jitters,” a fantastic song with a loungy feel. This is not a song you would have pictured on The Replacement’s earlier albums per se, but it fits perfectly here. The next song, “The Ledge,” has a slightly different feel; Westerberg’s vocals sound more restrained, and the riff differs somewhat from the other songs on this side. Since this song is about suicide, it’s not surprising that it doesn’t hit the same as the other songs.
Side two leads off with “Nevermind. Kicking in with vocals immediately, the song carries a similar vibe to some of the earlier tracks from side one. I’d say it’s a solid song but not as solid as some of the others here, in my opinion. Next, we have “Valentine.” I like the opening riff here; it allows me to realize that the drumming throughout the record is consistent in sound and tempo. In particular, “Valentine,” “Alex Chilton,” and “Can’t Hardly Wait;” all of these seem to have the same feel.
This leads into “Shooting Dirty Pool,” the beginning of a side-ending trio of killer tracks. Next is “Red Red Wine,” an ode to vino, a high-energy song with a heavy beat and a great chorus. “Skyway” follows, and this is a slower ballad, but truly a lovely song all the same. Ending the proceedings is “Can’t Hardly Wait,” one of the bigger singles of the Mats’ career. As I mentioned, this one features Big Star’s Alex Chilton offering some guitar fills, bringing the Big Star theme full circle.
Depending on how you look at it, Pleased to Meet Me is either The Replacement’s transitional album or the end of the road. I guess it just depends on who you ask. Either way, it is a spectacular record that showcases Paul Westerberg’s songwriting in all its glory and is essential to the band’s canon and important to rock history.